The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > Great Debates

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 04-19-2010, 10:24 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
SDSAB
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: At the Diogenes Club
Posts: 48,522
Is ""I'm sorry that I offended you" a real apology?

All things being equal, context aside (if that's even possible), it seems to me it's sort of a passive-aggressive non-apology. It means you regret my taking offense, not that you are apologizing for having said something hurtful. But maybe I'm just being hypersensitive. What do you think?

And FTR, this is not about anything between me and another Doper.
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 04-19-2010, 10:34 PM
XT XT is offline
Agnatheist
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: The Great South West
Posts: 27,060
Not sure how much of a debate you are likely to get out of this, but my own take FWIW is...it depends. Say I'm talking to someone and I discover they are a fundamentalist who has very strong feelings about evolution. Now, I'm not going to back off of my own stance, just because it offends someone. By the same token, I'm not going to intentionally rub someones face in their silly superstitions or ignorance (ok...I probably would, but we are speaking hypothetically here), so if I brought up a sensitive subject I might very well say 'I'm sorry I offended you by bringing this up, let's change the subject since I'm not going to convince you and you aren't going to convince me, so it's really unprofitable for us to continue our current conversation'.

In point of fact, I actually have said pretty much this exact thing when I've drifted into a conversation with someone who held radically different view points to my own. It boils down to this really...do you wish to remain civil with the person, or do you wish to continue the argument? If there is no real possibility of either a civil discourse or an enjoyable argument (one of my favorite things), and if you really don't want to come to blows, then I think a perfectly good out is to simply say 'I'm sorry that I offended you, let's just agree to disagree and move on'.

Just my two cents worth (and a bargain at triple the price!)...

-XT
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 04-19-2010, 10:35 PM
Suburban Plankton Suburban Plankton is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
It rather depends on context. If you have done something that in all honesty you thought was non-offensive, but nevertheless you offended someone, then you might rightly be sorry that your words/actions caused offense (but not necessarily sorry for the fact that you said/did whatever it was).

Now, if you had asked about the phrase "I'm sorry if I offended you", then the answer is no, that's a bullshit 'apology'.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 04-19-2010, 10:38 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: U.S.A.
Posts: 26,801
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
All things being equal, context aside (if that's even possible), it seems to me it's sort of a passive-aggressive non-apology. It means you regret my taking offense, not that you are apologizing for having said something hurtful. But maybe I'm just being hypersensitive. What do you think?

And FTR, this is not about anything between me and another Doper.
That might be all that's due. Are you saying that if you take offense that the other person is obligated to concede that you're right, even if he or she doesn't agree?
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 04-19-2010, 10:44 PM
Stoid Stoid is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: City of Angels
Posts: 14,240
I don't know that I understand the distinction Suburban is making...?

My answer to your question is, unfortunately, pretty much the same as the others. It's really not possible to characterize it without knowing the context.

As a general rule of thumb, though, I would say that it's your choice to be offended, not mine to protect you from your choice. As long as all the people involved in a given interaction are presumed to be well-intentioned, then taking offense is on the person who chooses to. So if I said something that I had not intended to be offensive, and you told me that you were, I wouldn't say "I'm sorry that I offended you", I would say "I'm sorry that you were offended."

People spend an enormous amount of energy being offended and I find it ridiculous and soul-sucking, myself.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 04-19-2010, 10:47 PM
Marley23 Marley23 is online now
I Am the One Who Bans
Moderator
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: Brooklyn
Posts: 77,867
It can be a real apology, yes. It acknowledges the person was offended by something you said and expresses that wasn't your intention. It doesn't withdraw what was said, but you might not want to do that (or need to).

The one that is phony, at least to my ears, if "I'm sorry if anyone was offended." With that one, there's no responsibility being taken, there's no acknowledgment of the fact that someone was offended, and there's the implication that the offended people are wrong and are forcing an unnecessary apology.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 04-19-2010, 10:51 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: U.S.A.
Posts: 26,801
E.H., in the same situation, how would you feel about this response -- "I don't believe I did anything offensive, and thus I don't believe I owe you an apology. I will not apologize. If you choose to continue to feel offended, that is your own responsibility, not mine."
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 04-19-2010, 11:24 PM
E-Sabbath E-Sabbath is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Up The River
Posts: 13,945
I'm sorry you were offended by something I said.

That's not an apology at all.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 04-20-2010, 01:58 AM
shantih shantih is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suburban Plankton View Post
Now, if you had asked about the phrase "I'm sorry if I offended you", then the answer is no, that's a bullshit 'apology'.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marley23 View Post
The one that is phony, at least to my ears, if "I'm sorry if anyone was offended." With that one, there's no responsibility being taken, there's no acknowledgment of the fact that someone was offended, and there's the implication that the offended people are wrong and are forcing an unnecessary apology.
PreCISEly. "I'm sorry *if* anyone was offended" is a politicians's apology -- the 'if' makes the offense a conditional possibility and doesn't acknowledge the fact of the offense and take responsibility for it. It turns the situation around and makes the offendee into the responsible party. It is the mark of a weasel.

"I'm sorry that I offended you" is a genuine apology: the offense may or may not have been deliberate, but it is acknowledged, responsibility for it is taken by the one who gave offense, and the two parties to the discussion can move on in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 04-20-2010, 02:14 AM
Stoid Stoid is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: City of Angels
Posts: 14,240
Quote:
Originally Posted by shantih View Post
PreCISEly. "I'm sorry *if* anyone was offended" is a politicians's apology -- the 'if' makes the offense a conditional possibility and doesn't acknowledge the fact of the offense and take responsibility for it. It turns the situation around and makes the offendee into the responsible party.
They ARE the responsible party. (This is very difficult without examples...) If someone says something that they do not know is offensive, and they don't intend to be offensive, they have done nothing wrong. Apologizing if someone ends up being offended is certainly nice, but not necessary.

Because where do you draw the line? There are people in the world who are incredibly thin-skinned and look for opportunities to be offended... they get to make others feel responsible and sorry because of their issues? Why?

It is courteous and pleasant to express regret that something you've said turned out to be something that someone else found offensive. But the person who made the statement innocently is not a weasel or a jerk if they frame their apology in such a way as to decline taking responsibility, because they aren't responsible.

"I'm sorry you found my statement offensive." can be stated sincerely and meaningfully.

Last edited by Stoid; 04-20-2010 at 02:15 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 04-20-2010, 02:18 AM
Martini Enfield Martini Enfield is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
The thing is- as I've said before- Everything is offensive to Someone. It's getting increasingly difficult to express any sort of opinion nowadays without someone saying "That's offensive!"

And I'm not talking about "I'm not a racist but the economy would be in better shape if we weren't giving so much social security to the darkies, amiright?" sort of stuff that is (rightly) offensive to "the average person", but honestly held and reasonable opinions like "I don't like cats because they kill the local wildlife", which is likely to offend cat owners who may very well say something like "Mr. Tiddles is a lovable cat who sits on my lap and purrs! How dare you call him a murderer!"

The point is, the first speaker was not intending to say "I hate YOUR cat", they were saying "I do not like cats in general, here is my reason". It's not the first speaker's fault that the listener is a subscriber to Cat Fancy Magazine and on the community Cat Show management board and has chosen to take their general remark as a personal attack on them and/or their pet.

In that case, "I'm sorry if you were offended" is a perfectly acceptable apology- it's basically saying "I didn't mean to cause offence but you're still being too sensitive about the subject and I do not concede that I've done anything wrong."

As Stoid rightly points out, entirely too many people go out of their way looking for things to be offended about nowadays. If people apologise every time they say something that someone else might be offended by, we'd be beginning every sentence with "I apologise" and ending every sentence with "Sorry". That's not something I consider a desirable state of affairs.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 04-20-2010, 02:51 AM
jtgain jtgain is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Since I recently said it in another thread, I believe it is a real apology.

I guess it could be translated to mean: "It was not my intention to offend you, but since my words were interpreted by you to be offensive, I feel bad that they were said in such a way as to allow you to make such an inference. Perhaps I could have made my statement differently. "
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 04-20-2010, 03:53 AM
Hallucinex Hallucinex is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
I think it can be genuine (even if it may often not be). Particularly if the person didn't realise that their statements might cause offence and if had they known they might have either phrased it differently or not have raised the subject.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 04-20-2010, 06:09 AM
BMalion BMalion is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Posts: 9,591
I agree that the key is inclusion of the word "if".

When present the apology is BS.

I'm sorry if that offends you.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 04-20-2010, 07:16 AM
The Bith Shuffle The Bith Shuffle is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
I agree that "I'm sorry you were offended" is a total non-apology. It is to locate the problem in the person who was offended, not the person who made the offensive statement.

People who like to use ridiculous language use this trick all the time. If somebody says "he Jewed me out of fifty bucks" and I object, that person is apt to say "well I'm sorry if you're offended". It's like they did nothing wrong by equating Jewishness with thievery. It's all my problem because I'm so goddamn sensitive as to think that there's something wrong with racism.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 04-20-2010, 07:36 AM
kanicbird kanicbird is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: May 1999
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
All things being equal, context aside (if that's even possible), it seems to me it's sort of a passive-aggressive non-apology. It means you regret my taking offense, not that you are apologizing for having said something hurtful. But maybe I'm just being hypersensitive. What do you think?

And FTR, this is not about anything between me and another Doper.
It is acknowledgment that you are hurt, which is good, it is possible that it was not intended to hurt, and the hurt is on your end only, which he should not have to suffer for, that is not his burden - he in this case did nothing wrong. If this be the case the hurt person should seek why that bothered him and seek out the root, which was not him.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 04-20-2010, 08:05 AM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Martini Enfield View Post
In that case, "I'm sorry if you were offended" is a perfectly acceptable apology- it's basically saying "I didn't mean to cause offence but you're still being too sensitive about the subject and I do not concede that I've done anything wrong."
I don't believe that counts as an actual apology. By it, you aren't the one in the wrong; the problem is very much put in the other person's lap, and you don't concede any kind of wrongness on your own part. The only way, as I see it, that an apology along the lines of the example works is it the "wrong" admitted includes the point that you were wrong to believe that what you said would not be offensive, or that it was offensive. Basically, the argument of ignorance - "I'm sorry that I didn't realise how offended people would be" can be a real apology to me, because it concedes that you were wrong in some way. Specifically including that you haven't done anything wrong just makes it, "Oh, I did everything perfectly. I'd prefer that you werent offended, and I think you are wrong to be offended, but it certainly isn't my fault that you are."
Quote:
As Stoid rightly points out, entirely too many people go out of their way looking for things to be offended about nowadays. If people apologise every time they say something that someone else might be offended by, we'd be beginning every sentence with "I apologise" and ending every sentence with "Sorry". That's not something I consider a desirable state of affairs.
Honestly, if this is your motivation, I don't see how I could consider you to be sorry on a lot of things. You're just apologising for practical reasons, not because you, yourself, actually believe yourself to be at fault. You're apologising for them.

Last edited by Revenant Threshold; 04-20-2010 at 08:06 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 04-20-2010, 08:23 AM
hogarth hogarth is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
It depends. There's a difference between "I honestly didn't mean to say that in a hurtful way" and "Sorry buddy, but I'm just keepin' it real".
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 04-20-2010, 08:39 AM
Otara Otara is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
In my view its most practically useful to use an apology for taking responsibility for ones own behaviour.

If you cant identify behaviour you could have done differently, then theres nothing to apologise for and instead the issue is possibly one of regret rather than apology.

Ie I apologise for offending you means I apologise for communicating with you in a way that didn't take into account your feelings or views on the subject and that I recognise it was needlessly offensive.

"I apologise if' is as said not an apology in my view as it takes no responsibility for ones own behaviour and is really an indirect criticism.

In my view its more useful or accurate to say you regret the situation or understand this is a sensitive subject but thats your honest opinion in situations like that as it makes it clear you do not consider yourself to be responsible for the feelings of offense but dont like that the situation has occurred.

Of course if you dont sincerely think that then you're probably in a fight no matter what. It really depends whether your intention is to deescalate, or to win in the end rather than the exact wording and whether you're willing to keep working at that or not.

Otara
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 04-20-2010, 08:46 AM
TruCelt TruCelt is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Near Washington, DC
Posts: 7,862
IMHO it is a true statement of regret, just perhaps not for what you had hoped they were regretting.

"I apologize if I've offended you" = an apology without an admission of guilt. This is what you say when you really didn't mean to offend, but are unable to equivocate about the actual meaning of your words/actions.

"I'm sorry you were offended" = an insult aimed at the ridiculous nature of the impugned offense. This is what you say when the offendee seems like a real nutjob.

Big difference!
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 04-20-2010, 09:14 AM
Brown Eyed Girl Brown Eyed Girl is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
A more pertinent question, I think, is why people seem to think that "I'm sorry..." always indicates apology or acknowledgment of guilt. I just had this conversation with my husband last night. I asked him how work was and he indicated frustration and distress about it. I sincerely replied, "I'm sorry," as in "I'm sorry that you had a bad day," to which he replied, "It's not your fault."

Well, I know it's not my fault. Can't I be sorry for you without you inferring I feel guilty about it?

Sometimes, "I'm sorry" just means "that makes me sad." Isn't the root 'sorrow'?

In the case of "I'm sorry if I offended you," I am expressing regret that what I said may have offended you, whether it did or not. If you want to get all pissy about the offense, that's something else. Then, I maybe I'm regretting ever having a conversation with you.
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 04-20-2010, 09:34 AM
sandra_nz sandra_nz is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
"I'm sorry that I offended you" - depending on the delivery and sincerity, it could be a real apology.

"I'm sorry that you were offended by what I said" - very rarely meant sincerely and therefore very rarely a real apology.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 04-20-2010, 09:37 AM
Wheelz Wheelz is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
I've always believed that the verb "offend" is one of a very few that becomes more accurate in passive voice than in active voice.

You can apologize for saying or doing something, if you believe it was wrong or inappropriate. But "offended" refers not to your action, but to the other party's reaction, which isn't yours to apologize for.

So "I'm sorry I said your mother was ugly" is a good apology, while "I'm sorry you were offended when I said your mother was ugly" is not.
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 04-20-2010, 09:46 AM
Otara Otara is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Perhaps a better way to say it if you were being sincere in taking responsibility would be to say Im sorry I was being offensive? Ie acknowledging responsibility for an act rather than the persons feelings.

Otara
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 04-20-2010, 10:17 AM
Wheelz Wheelz is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by Otara View Post
Perhaps a better way to say it if you were being sincere in taking responsibility would be to say Im sorry I was being offensive? Ie acknowledging responsibility for an act rather than the persons feelings.

Otara
But "being offensive" is still in the eye of the offendee.
Context is important, of course, but I think any apology one offers should be for a specific action, not for a vague adjective that may or may not describe that action.

For example, let's say I loudly called a female acquaintance a c*nt in front of her young children. Few would disagree that what I did was offensive.
By way of apology, "I'm sorry I called you that. It was wrong, even more so where your kids could hear it," specifically takes responsibility for my actions and communicates regret.
But something like "I'm sorry I was being offensive toward you and the kids" still sounds waffly and weasely to me.

On the other hand, if the offense was over something I consider innocuous -- say, somebody with very puritan standards was offended that I went around all day with my top button undone -- then "I'm sorry I didn't button my shirt all the way up to my neck" would surely be insincere, while "I'm sorry I was being offensive by the way I dressed" places responsibility where it doesn't belong. In such a case I don't think I owe any apology at all.
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 04-20-2010, 11:06 AM
Malacandra Malacandra is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Another vote for "I'm sorry I offended you" being a genuine apology. The speaker may have intended no offence but now realizes offence can reasonably be taken. "I'm sorry you were offended" could be genuine too - as in "I had no wish to offend, did not believe I was offensive, even believe many other listeners would not have been offended, but value your friendship enough to accept that your own feelings are unfeigned and it will do me no harm to guard my tongue another time". Context, if not everything, is certainly germane.
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 04-20-2010, 11:12 AM
Bryan Ekers Bryan Ekers is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
I'm sorry that your parents raised you to be such a humourless fuckstick
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 04-20-2010, 11:23 AM
What Exit? What Exit? is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Central NJ (near Bree)
Posts: 25,607
I think it is real, maybe not whole-hearted but real. I would accept it.
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 04-20-2010, 12:50 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
SDSAB
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: At the Diogenes Club
Posts: 48,522
Thanks, everybody. The consensus seems to be that, all things being equal, it could be genuine. I'll treat it as such.
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 04-20-2010, 01:04 PM
Cat Whisperer Cat Whisperer is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Lethbridge, AB.
Posts: 48,107
After reading everyone's responses and arguments here, I have come to the conclusion that apologies for offense are extremely subjective and contextual. Maybe the bottom line is if it feels weaselly and insincere to you, it probably is.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 04-20-2010, 01:21 PM
Manda JO Manda JO is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Posts: 8,712
I think it's like apologizing if you open a door and hit someone: you didn't do anything wrong, you couldn't possibly know that they were on the other side, they have some culpability for standing right outside a door, but, still, you'd be a douche if you didn't say 'whoops, I am sorry, I didn't see you there", because at the end of the day your actions caused them pain, even if that pain was neither intentional nor forseeable.
Reply With Quote
  #32  
Old 04-20-2010, 02:24 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Western New York
Posts: 58,745
It's the pronoun not the conjunction that determines the sincerity of the statement.

"I'm sorry if I offended you" vs "I'm sorry that I offended you" - no major difference. The first statement is just different in that it's acknowledging the possibility of offense rather than its certainty.

"I'm sorry that I offended you" vs "I'm sorry that you were offended" - this is a significant difference. Now the statement is placing the responsibility for the offense on the person who heard the remark rather than the person who spoke it.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 04-20-2010 at 02:24 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #33  
Old 04-20-2010, 02:58 PM
Stoid Stoid is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: City of Angels
Posts: 14,240
Quote:
Originally Posted by Revenant Threshold View Post
I don't believe that counts as an actual apology. By it, you aren't the one in the wrong; the problem is very much put in the other person's lap, and you don't concede any kind of wrongness on your own part.
Precisely! The fact that Mr. Touchy takes offense at something Mr. Clumsy said does not automatically mean Mr. Clumsy is wrong.


Quote:
The only way, as I see it, that an apology along the lines of the example works is it the "wrong" admitted includes the point that you were wrong to believe that what you said would not be offensive, or that it was offensive. Basically, the argument of ignorance - "I'm sorry that I didn't realise how offended people would be" can be a real apology to me, because it concedes that you were wrong in some way. Specifically including that you haven't done anything wrong just makes it, "Oh, I did everything perfectly. I'd prefer that you werent offended, and I think you are wrong to be offended, but it certainly isn't my fault that you are." Honestly, if this is your motivation, I don't see how I could consider you to be sorry on a lot of things. You're just apologising for practical reasons, not because you, yourself, actually believe yourself to be at fault. You're apologising for them.
Setting aside the extremeness of your characterizations... what the "apology" is at that point is actually an expression of sympathy for Mr. Touchy's feelings, and a measure of sorrow that, without intention or desire, he arrived at those feelings by the way he received Mr. Clumsy's communication.

Again, it is pleasant, courteous and desirable for Mr. Clumsy to take note of Mr. Touchy's feelings and in some way express sympathy and sorrow. But he does not have to "take responsibility" for Mr. Touchy's reaction.
Reply With Quote
  #34  
Old 04-20-2010, 03:53 PM
outlierrn outlierrn is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Very much context and sincerity dependent, IMHO.

Offending someone over the course of events or words may well be the least worst choice, OTOH 'I'm sorry I offended you, but...' can just be another way fo saying 'fuck you I'm right.'

It can be a genuine attempt to make forward progress without undoing the past, a nolo contendre if you will, or it can be bullshit.
Reply With Quote
  #35  
Old 04-20-2010, 04:05 PM
Batfish Batfish is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
An apology has 3 parts.

1. An admission of wrongdoing.
2. An acknowledgement of the aggrieved party/parties.
3. An expression of remorse.

The first may contain the disclaimer: "I didn't mean any harm, yet harm was done."
Reply With Quote
  #36  
Old 04-20-2010, 04:18 PM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoid View Post
Precisely! The fact that Mr. Touchy takes offense at something Mr. Clumsy said does not automatically mean Mr. Clumsy is wrong.
Most certainly, but it also means that Mr. Clumsy is not offering a true apology. He doesn't believe he's in the wrong.
Quote:
Setting aside the extremeness of your characterizations... what the "apology" is at that point is actually an expression of sympathy for Mr. Touchy's feelings, and a measure of sorrow that, without intention or desire, he arrived at those feelings by the way he received Mr. Clumsy's communication.
To the contrary, it expresses dismissal for Mr. Touchy's feelings. "I'm sorry you feel that way" is essentially saying "I'd prefer that you didn't feel that way, because you are wrong in feeling like that". It is a measure of sorrow at Mr Touchy's incorrectness, or a measure of sorrow at the inability for Mr. Touchy to see Mr. Clumsy's correctness. It's expressing disdain for those feelings, because you don't believe they're warranted.
Quote:
Again, it is pleasant, courteous and desirable for Mr. Clumsy to take note of Mr. Touchy's feelings and in some way express sympathy and sorrow. But he does not have to "take responsibility" for Mr. Touchy's reaction.
Most certainly he does not. In such a situation, he should not apologise. I'm not saying "Even if you don't believe you're in the wrong, you should apologise as if you are". I'm just saying that if you don't believe there's any problem on your end, then an apology is unnecessary (and untrue). It's not pleasant, courteous, or desirable to say what amounts to "I'm sorry you're wrong".

Last edited by Revenant Threshold; 04-20-2010 at 04:18 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #37  
Old 04-20-2010, 04:25 PM
Dangerosa Dangerosa is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
I think Jane Austen says something on this form of apology in Sense and Sensibility:

Quote:
"A letter of proper submission!" repeated he;
"would they have me beg my mother's pardon for Robert's
ingratitude to HER, and breach of honour to ME?--I can
make no submission--I am grown neither humble nor
penitent by what has passed.--I am grown very happy;
but that would not interest.--I know of no submission
that IS proper for me to make."

"You may certainly ask to be forgiven," said Elinor,
"because you have offended;--and I should think you
might NOW venture so far as to profess some concern
for having ever formed the engagement which drew on you
your mother's anger."

He agreed that he might.
Reply With Quote
  #38  
Old 04-20-2010, 04:30 PM
Stoid Stoid is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: City of Angels
Posts: 14,240
Quote:
Originally Posted by Revenant Threshold View Post
I'm just saying that if you don't believe there's any problem on your end, then an apology is unnecessary (and untrue). It's not pleasant, courteous, or desirable to say what amounts to "I'm sorry you're wrong".

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way.

I think you are characterizing it incorrectly. The thought behind it is absolutely not "I'm sorry you're wrong", because who feels sorry someone is wrong? They don't. They feel sad, sorry, sympathetic, over the fact that someone else feels badly. As someone pointed out earlier in the thread, we often say "I'm sorry" as an expression of sympathy for someone's feelings when we have absolutely zero to do with why they are feeling that way, such as when someone says they feel sick, they had a shitty day, whatever. It's a similar thing. I care enough to feel sad on your behalf for your unpleasant experience - that's sincere. I'm just not going to take responsibility for the way you feel.
Reply With Quote
  #39  
Old 04-20-2010, 05:04 PM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoid View Post
Well, I'm sorry you feel that way.
Thanks!

Quote:
I think you are characterizing it incorrectly. The thought behind it is absolutely not "I'm sorry you're wrong", because who feels sorry someone is wrong? They don't.
They don't? I think it's certainly possible. Oftentimes with the "I'm sorry you're offended" apology the motivation behind it is "Well, i'm not at all sorry, but for the sake of politeness i'll pretend I am. I'd prefer you weren't wrong". And you get politicians where they feel the need to make an apology for the sake of their career, but not so much as to make an actual apology.
Quote:
They feel sad, sorry, sympathetic, over the fact that someone else feels badly. As someone pointed out earlier in the thread, we often say "I'm sorry" as an expression of sympathy for someone's feelings when we have absolutely zero to do with why they are feeling that way, such as when someone says they feel sick, they had a shitty day, whatever. It's a similar thing. I care enough to feel sad on your behalf for your unpleasant experience - that's sincere. I'm just not going to take responsibility for the way you feel.
But i'd say that's a good example. You feel sorry for someone's terrible day, because you're sympathetic enough to prefer that they had a better one. And I'd say the difference lies in expectations - if you're apologising to someone over an offense, their expectation often is an apology from you to them; if you're apologising for a bad day someone has, they know you're not behind it, or apologising for it. You're simply expressing sympathy, as you say. But an offended person is expecting an apology, which you're sort-of fulfilling without actually having to fulfil it. It's sort of a sneaky way out.
Reply With Quote
  #40  
Old 04-20-2010, 06:07 PM
Stoid Stoid is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: City of Angels
Posts: 14,240
Quote:
Originally Posted by Revenant Threshold View Post
Thanks!

They don't? I think it's certainly possible. Oftentimes with the "I'm sorry you're offended" apology the motivation behind it is "Well, i'm not at all sorry, but for the sake of politeness i'll pretend I am. I'd prefer you weren't wrong". And you get politicians where they feel the need to make an apology for the sake of their career, but not so much as to make an actual apology. But i'd say that's a good example. You feel sorry for someone's terrible day, because you're sympathetic enough to prefer that they had a better one. And I'd say the difference lies in expectations - if you're apologising to someone over an offense, their expectation often is an apology from you to them; if you're apologising for a bad day someone has, they know you're not behind it, or apologising for it. You're simply expressing sympathy, as you say. But an offended person is expecting an apology, which you're sort-of fulfilling without actually having to fulfil it. It's sort of a sneaky way out.
Well, you've certainly nailed it: other people's expectations. Mr. Clumsy doesn't need to "sneak out" of living up to other people's expectations. He didn't sign up for that, most of us don't, and a whole lot of grief in this world could be completely avoided if we all got that message. Seriously - the degree to which interpersonal relations are damaged, destroyed and disrupted by Ms. YouShouldaKnown expecting Ms. ButIHadNoIdea to act differently is pretty major. And Ms. YouShouldaKnown is wrong to have those expectations in the first place.

And my Numbers I Pulled From My Butt Meter says that 90% of the things people are offended about they'd be far happier letting go of, and recognizing that it's not about them, so why stress anyway? Does it improve the quality of your life to be emotionally disturbed when someone says "He jewed me down"? You'd have a hard time convincing me that it does.

An example from my own life. New friend/poker buddy. I invited him to my weekly poker game, back when I was still with my ex. I am a fat woman. My ex is a very thin man. I went to bed early and everyone else kept playing. I hear the next day that New Friend told a joke at the table after I went to bed, the details of which I dont' know - what I do know is that the joke found its humor in a thin man with a fat woman. Now, most people would be offended by that. I could easily have been. But I wasn't. What would be the point? I felt certain that it wasn't intended to be harmful to me or my ex - the guy was just a clueless idiot who wasn't thinking about his audience. Either he figured out at some point that his joke was tasteless, in which case he probably felt really stupid and embarrassed, or he didn't. Why am I going to let it bother me either way?
Reply With Quote
  #41  
Old 04-20-2010, 07:27 PM
Lemur866 Lemur866 is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: The Middle of Puget Sound
Posts: 16,904
You could certainly say, "I'm sorry your mother died," and mean it, even if you did nothing to cause their mother's death. It's a way of expressing sympathy with the other person's emotions, without neccesarily taking responsibility for causing those emotions.

Of course saying "I'm sorry your mother died," is a different sort of thing that saying "I'm sorry I killed your mother." If you killed the other person's mother, then the first apology is no apology at all. But if you didn't kill the other person's mother, then the second apology is improper as well.
Reply With Quote
  #42  
Old 04-20-2010, 08:08 PM
Martini Enfield Martini Enfield is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Quote:
Originally Posted by Revenant Threshold View Post
Oftentimes with the "I'm sorry you're offended" apology the motivation behind it is "Well, i'm not at all sorry, but for the sake of politeness i'll pretend I am. I'd prefer you weren't wrong".
Bingo. My sentiments exactly.
Reply With Quote
  #43  
Old 04-20-2010, 08:37 PM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoid View Post
Well, you've certainly nailed it: other people's expectations. Mr. Clumsy doesn't need to "sneak out" of living up to other people's expectations. He didn't sign up for that, most of us don't, and a whole lot of grief in this world could be completely avoided if we all got that message. Seriously - the degree to which interpersonal relations are damaged, destroyed and disrupted by Ms. YouShouldaKnown expecting Ms. ButIHadNoIdea to act differently is pretty major. And Ms. YouShouldaKnown is wrong to have those expectations in the first place.
I guess what I don't see is why two wrongs in this instance make a right, or at the least make the situation any better. If you're correct about people being needlessly offended (and i'll admit I take an alternative view on that), by apologising for the sake of politeness or whatever it just perpetuates that system. Saying sorry and doing the whole polite, i'm-actually-the-one-in-the-wrong business to someone's face, but believing in private (or saying, to uninvolved people) that actually you think a lot of it is pointless isn't going to change anything.

In a sense, the problem doesn't lie with those who are offended. After all, from their perspective, and assuming they buy your apology, they have no reason at all to know that something is up. So far as they are concerned, you did something offensive, you apologised, all is right with the world. Their expectations have been met, and will be considered natural the next time around, too. It's not they who have the blame for the situation, but those who consider themselves blameless, but who pretend to be sorry about the situation who should be considered responsible. They're the ones with the better view of the situation.

It just seems a bit odd to me to speak of weariness with a situation on one hand while actually going out of your way to continue it when actually confronted with that situation. It's your decision; if you choose to say sorry, even a false apology, then you've taken the decision that you prefer the temporary politeness or betterment of the situation over the alternative. To speak of it as the other person's fault seems weird.

Last edited by Revenant Threshold; 04-20-2010 at 08:38 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #44  
Old 04-20-2010, 09:58 PM
Stoid Stoid is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Location: City of Angels
Posts: 14,240
Quote:
Originally Posted by Revenant Threshold View Post
I guess what I don't see is why two wrongs in this instance make a right, or at the least make the situation any better. If you're correct about people being needlessly offended (and i'll admit I take an alternative view on that), by apologising for the sake of politeness or whatever it just perpetuates that system. Saying sorry and doing the whole polite, i'm-actually-the-one-in-the-wrong business to someone's face, but believing in private (or saying, to uninvolved people) that actually you think a lot of it is pointless isn't going to change anything.

In a sense, the problem doesn't lie with those who are offended. After all, from their perspective, and assuming they buy your apology, they have no reason at all to know that something is up. So far as they are concerned, you did something offensive, you apologised, all is right with the world. Their expectations have been met, and will be considered natural the next time around, too. It's not they who have the blame for the situation, but those who consider themselves blameless, but who pretend to be sorry about the situation who should be considered responsible. They're the ones with the better view of the situation.

It just seems a bit odd to me to speak of weariness with a situation on one hand while actually going out of your way to continue it when actually confronted with that situation. It's your decision; if you choose to say sorry, even a false apology, then you've taken the decision that you prefer the temporary politeness or betterment of the situation over the alternative. To speak of it as the other person's fault seems weird.
Ummm. I think we're getting a little lost here.

For the record, I personally promote the idea that taking offense is a waste of time and emotional energy, that we should assume that people who are not our enemies mean us no harm and people who are our enemies dont' deserve the satisfaction of successfully disrupting our peace, so the only purpose served by being offended is supporting our desire for drama.

As for the way I conduct myself, it depends. What's interesting to me, if I understand what you're saying - and I'm not sure I do completely - is how you have found a different way to arrive at the same bottom line: holding other people responsible for the feelings of the offended, with the twist that it's the responsibility of the "offender" to school the offended about the error inherent in taking offense, by making an issue of not apologizing.

In other words, you seem to be determined to blame.

But I'm open to being corrected.
Reply With Quote
  #45  
Old 04-20-2010, 10:57 PM
Bosstone Bosstone is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
It's getting sliiightly touched on in some posts, but doesn't seem to be addressed directly. (I may have missed detail in a post or two, though.)

"I'm sorry I offended you." Sincere. Regardless of what caused the offense, I'm actively acknowledging that I caused said offense and I regret it. It doesn't acknowledge any wrongness in whatever caused the offense, but it's still sincere in regretting doing so.

"I'm sorry you were offended." Non-apology. The passive voice removes me from the situation; whatever offended you, it was your own fault you were offended, I had nothing to do with it. It's the same kind of bullshit evasion of responsibility that "Mistakes were made" gets mocked for.
Reply With Quote
  #46  
Old 04-20-2010, 11:03 PM
Noel Prosequi Noel Prosequi is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: In the Ning Nang Nong
Posts: 1,096
I haven't read the whole thread, but for mine the modest ambiguity resolves in favour of a real apology.

If a person said "I am sorry you took offence", that is an expression of regret at your reaction. No apology here.

But saying "I am sorry I offended you" is, for mine, taking ownership of the causal nexus between their actions and the offence. It resolves to: - (1) I offended you (ie, an admission that I caused your feeling of offence). (2) I am sorry for causing that feeling of offence. (3) I accept that my actions, in causing that feeling of offence, are therefore the subject of the apology.

There is room for qualification here which is context dependant. If someone said this orally, I would accept this as an apology. Not everyone drafts every word spoken like a lawyer. If, however, you asked for them to apologise for their actions directly, and they came up with this formulation, then them's weasel words and I would not consider this a genuine apology. Any smug faces pulled when apology given to cue the proposition that it was an attempt at weaseling?

Is the context here a dispute about whether the person actually did the action which triggered your offence, or is there an acceptance of that fact and the dispute is about whether they were thoughtlessly negligent in undertaking the action when they should have known it would give offence?

It might make a difference, but in either case, and in the absence of further detail, I lean in favour of treating the wording of the apology as sufficiently complete that there is no need to go to pistols at dawn.
Reply With Quote
  #47  
Old 04-20-2010, 11:06 PM
Martini Enfield Martini Enfield is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bosstone View Post
"I'm sorry you were offended." Non-apology. The passive voice removes me from the situation; whatever offended you, it was your own fault you were offended, I had nothing to do with it. It's the same kind of bullshit evasion of responsibility that "Mistakes were made" gets mocked for.
The thing is, quite often there really is nothing to apologise for (or it really is the other's person's fault for being such a delicate snowflake) and it's a lot easier to invoke something that sounds like an apology but isn't than get into an actual fight over the incident.
Reply With Quote
  #48  
Old 04-20-2010, 11:21 PM
Bosstone Bosstone is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by Martini Enfield View Post
The thing is, quite often there really is nothing to apologise for (or it really is the other's person's fault for being such a delicate snowflake) and it's a lot easier to invoke something that sounds like an apology but isn't than get into an actual fight over the incident.
In which case the active voice is still better. The passive voice option is about as transparently unsincere as you can get, and in most cases it'd have about as much effect in smoothing over ruffled feathers than "Fine, whatever."
Reply With Quote
  #49  
Old 04-20-2010, 11:28 PM
Martini Enfield Martini Enfield is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bosstone View Post
In which case the active voice is still better. The passive voice option is about as transparently unsincere as you can get, and in most cases it'd have about as much effect in smoothing over ruffled feathers than "Fine, whatever."
If I'm not apologising to someone, I've got no interest in sounding sincere. "Fine, whatever" is un-necessarily brusque and rude. "I'm sorry you're offended" at least sounds like I'm making the effort to observe social niceties.
Reply With Quote
  #50  
Old 04-21-2010, 06:43 AM
Revenant Threshold Revenant Threshold is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoid View Post
Ummm. I think we're getting a little lost here.

For the record, I personally promote the idea that taking offense is a waste of time and emotional energy, that we should assume that people who are not our enemies mean us no harm and people who are our enemies dont' deserve the satisfaction of successfully disrupting our peace, so the only purpose served by being offended is supporting our desire for drama.
I think i'd disagree, at least so far as it always being a waste of time and emotional energy. Being offended provides drive and motivation for things to change. If you aren't emotionally invested in a situation, it's more difficult for you to be interested in attempting to change another person's mind. I mean, it would be nice if we were generally as interested in things we weren't personally affected by, but in practical terms, we're pretty much not.
Quote:
As for the way I conduct myself, it depends. What's interesting to me, if I understand what you're saying - and I'm not sure I do completely - is how you have found a different way to arrive at the same bottom line: holding other people responsible for the feelings of the offended, with the twist that it's the responsibility of the "offender" to school the offended about the error inherent in taking offense, by making an issue of not apologizing.
It's really only an odd opinion if we're taking for granted that the question of whether someone is offended is solely a matter of choice of the offended person. I'd say the most important part is the lack of information. The offending person knows their own opinions and intent to offend better than the offended person, so really the ball seems to be pretty much in their court. The offended person doesn't think there's anything more complicated to the situation other than that there was an apology.
Quote:
In other words, you seem to be determined to blame.
Well, i'd phrase it differently; i'd say my thinking means my opinion is that there is someone to blame, rather than going into the situation determined that someone is at fault and must be blamed for the situation. I don't feel a need to prove someone's at fault; I just think it's so. I'm open to being persuaded otherwise too.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:53 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.